There has been a dramatic rise in the number of litigants in person – those representing themselves in divorce court hearings – to decide children’s best interests.
This is because litigants are trying to reduce costs following the government’s abolition, in 2013, of Legal Aid in private law children cases where agreement cannot be reached on finance, contact or residence.
However, in our vast experience, representing yourself can bring many pitfalls for litigants in person. Not only is there the anxiety of speaking in court to a Judge but there is usually a substantial amount of paper work to prepare and also read. It is difficult to be objective when reading allegations from your own partner. Problems can likewise arise in understanding the Law and also appreciating what issues will be important to a Judge.
Even the most articulate people representing themselves struggle to get to grips with the finer points of law, the standards of evidence and the advocacy techniques that professionals take years to develop. The system is highly adversarial and cases need to presented in a technical way, requiring both knowledge and an emotional distance that parents will find hard to muster.
There is also a woeful lack of support and assistance in court for self-representing litigants.
The culmination of the above can lead to very highly charged hearings, with many of the marriage’s tensions and other arguments often aired in court – all of which can prolong the trauma for everyone involved, including the children.
Jones Myers’ highly trained Children Department lawyers always advise parents to consider the options for divorce by settlement – collaboration, arbitration and mediation – rather than a court battle. As well as being less confrontational, less stressful and completely private, they can result in a swift resolution and save on legal expenses.
Jones Myers partner and head of Children’s Department, Kate Banerjee, has ‘Higher Court Rights’, something fewer than 2,500 solicitors have in England and Wales, which enables her to offer clients an all-round litigation service.
Kate and her colleagues can also introduce parents going through divorce to support groups, counsellors and life coaches, to help guide them to making the right choices and ensure their wellbeing.
Whatever route is chosen, it is advisable to have legal representation to prevent matters spiralling out of control.
If a court hearing cannot be avoided, costs can be kept to a minimum by appointing a family law firm whose in-house expertise removes the need for a barrister. This can reduce fees by two thirds.
If you have any comments, queries or concerns on representing yourself in court or any other divorce related issues, leave a comment below, call the team at Jones Myers on 0113 246 0055 or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce.